How to use box shadows with Tailwind CSS, including custom and arbitrary values

By Vivian


September 12, 2022


Since they were introduced in 2009, shadows have been a great way to add some flair to any design. Shadows have evolved over the years and now they are incredibly flexible, even allowing for multiple shadows on a single element, similar to how the background-image property works.


The only prerequisite for this article is that you need to know how box shadows work in CSS. Check out the MDN page for a refresher.

As a quick recap, you apply shadows using the box-shadow CSS property and the property allows up to 5 values per shadow: x offset, y offset, blur-radius, spread-radius, and color. If you want to add multiple shadows just separate them with a comma.

Using the default Tailwind CSS shadows

Tailwind CSS has a list of default shadows that we can use out of the box, ranging from small (sm) to really large shadows (2xl), here’s the list straight from the framework:

boxShadow: {
sm: '0 1px 2px 0 rgb(0 0 0 / 0.05)',
DEFAULT: '0 1px 3px 0 rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1), 0 1px 2px -1px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1)',
md: '0 4px 6px -1px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1), 0 2px 4px -2px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1)',
lg: '0 10px 15px -3px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1), 0 4px 6px -4px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1)',
xl: '0 20px 25px -5px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1), 0 8px 10px -6px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.1)',
'2xl': '0 25px 50px -12px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.25)',
inner: 'inset 0 2px 4px 0 rgb(0 0 0 / 0.05)',
none: 'none',

You use them using the following syntax: shadow-[value].

For example:

<div class="shadow"></div> // Default shadow, uses the "DEFAULT" value
<div class="shadow-2xl"></div> // Uses the "2xl" value

Adding your custom values

If you want to add your own shadows to Tailwind CSS just add the boxShadow object to the extend property in the Tailwind CSS config and add your values there.

For example, if we wanted to add a shadow called custom, here’s how we would do it:

// Tailwind CSS config
module.exports = {
theme: {
extend: {
boxShadow: {
"custom": '0 50px 25px -24px rgb(0 0 0 / 0.3)'

Using arbitrary values in your markup

But what if you have a shadow that you only want to use in a single place in your project? That’s a good opportunity to use an arbitrary value.

Let’s say we want to use the custom shadow we create but as an arbitrary value, here’s how that would work:

<div class="shadow-[0_50px_25px_-24px_rgb(0,0,0,0.3)]"></div>

Looks different, right? Let’s break this snippet down:

  • Shadows need spaces between the values for them to work, but in the arbitrary value syntax, we can’t use spaces. Luckily there’s an alternative, we just need to replace the spaces with underscores (_).
  • Next, for the shadow color: in the original shadow, we used the modern RGB syntax, which has no commas. But that syntax doesn’t work yet on arbitrary values, we need to switch back to the old syntax that uses commas and remove any spaces between the numbers.

Using multiple shadows in arbitrary values

What if you want to use multiple shadows? Taking into account the points above, here’s how that would work:

<div class="shadow-[0_4px_6px_-1px_rgb(0,0,0,0.1),0_2px_4px_-2px_rgb(0,0,0,0.1)]"></div>

It works the same way, we just need to add a comma (,) between the shadows.

That’s it for this one! I hope you learned how to use shadows with Tailwind CSS, how to add your own shadows as custom values, and how to use shadows as arbitrary values. Until the next one!

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